Why I Ran Every Street in Downtown Vancouver

After living Downtown Vancouver for four months, Mat and I found ourselves stuck in our comfort zone, running the same routes that we had come to know and love. As beautiful as those paths were, we knew that shaking up our running routine would motivate us to get more movement, stay out longer and explore more of the city.

Running the Seawall around Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia became one of our go-to routes.

We had simultaneously committed to a much needed substance break from alcohol, cannabis, coffee and sugar for at least one hundred days, knowing that the novelty of the city would make cutting those daily dependencies easier for us. And at first, it did. But as our new-home honeymoon began to fade, the abstinence became a bit more challenging.

In an effort to stimulate our morning running routine and help ourselves cope with the obstacles of sobriety, we decided to attempt to run every single street and alleyway in Downtown Vancouver in a project we dubbed ‘Run the City’. I was both excited and nervous.

For me, running had been deeply intertwined with both coffee and cannabis. Vancouver, BC.

In my entire six year relationship with running, this was the first time I would be experiencing it without coffee and cannabis coursing through my veins. Initially, I was afraid that taking space from substance might reveal to me that I didn’t really love running for what it was, that it had just become a vehicle for my addictions, permission for me to get high on coffee and cannabis first thing in the morning without giving it a second thought. 

Living with less distractions to hide behind brought lots of questions and insecurities to the surface. Was my enthusiasm for running, cycling, hiking, and adventuring predicated on substance use? Could I participate in these activities without alcohol, cannabis, coffee or sugar? Did I even want to? What if I didn’t love the things I thought I did as much as I thought I did? Who was I then? There was much inner turmoil and reflection.

As with most things, I knew that since I was feeling triggered, uneasy and curious, I ought to lean into those feelings and find out more. In other words, I needed to go there, to know there.

We started ‘Run the City’ on a sunny September morning after pouring over Google Maps to find a good starting point. We decided to run all the north – south bound streets before committing to the east – west bound ones and then, if we were feeling it, outline the entire expanse with a perimeter run at the end.

We laced up our shoes, walked out the door and started our project.

Stopping to soak in the sun on our run across the Burrard Street Bridge in Downtown Vancouver, BC.

The layout of the land dictated the structure and elevation of our runs and the stimulation of the streets was distracting and immersive. Every time I looked down at my GPS watch, I couldn’t believe the distance we had travelled and the time that had passed. Mat didn’t believe me either.

We felt like characters in a video game, dodging cars and cyclists and weaving around humans, dogs and geese. Our heads were on a constant swivel, trying to capture all the new sights and sounds of the city. It was equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. We were loving it. 

As the days passed, I found myself ruminating less about my pre-run puffs or my morning espresso. I stopped envying the smell of a passerbys latte or their morning wake and bake. It seemed that the stimulation of exploration and the distraction of the unknown had replaced my cravings for either. It was feeling empowered.

Running through the Vancouver, BC was stimulating and immersive, we got to explore so much newness.

We woke up inspired to ‘Run the City’ to the point where we actually had to scale it back. Between resistance training and morning runs, our bodies were struggling to fully recover and we knew we needed a bit more space to bounce back full throttle. We started to alternate morning bike rides for morning runs to balance out the efforts, indulge in some variety and maintain a healthy routine.

Halfway through the project, we found ourselves smack dab in the heart of the Downtown Eastside, an area of Vancouver well known for its street community and pronounced drug culture. We knew that traversing the alleyways here would be in stark contrast to the upscale neighbourhoods of the nearby West End and Yaletown and yet, we were looking forward to the change.

Much to my surprise, the morning alleyways were cleaner and quieter than I imagined they would be. The plethora of bold street art, giant murals and unsolicited graffiti work made for colourful, engaging and smile inducing runs. There were also moments of heartache, exchanges of sadness and a low lying spirit of despair that affected us beyond our comprehension. 

Some of the incredible street art in Downtown Vancouver, this one is on the edge of Chinatown, Vancouver, BC.

Seeing the magnitude of issues that exist in the DTES induced a feeling of gratitude for the people and resources that have helped me in my life and a sincere compassion for those caught in deeper struggles. It led me to reflect about the shared struggle of addiction in our culture, the spectrum of substance use and abuse and how I have attempted to navigate and justify the various dependencies in my life. 

People asked me if we felt safe running through the DTES, reminding me how often we ‘other’ communities we don’t understand and allow media and misconceptions to warp our reality. Not only did I never once feel unsafe in the area, but the only chants, cheers and fist pumps that we got from strangers during the entirety of ‘Run the City’, came from the heart and hands of those on the streets of the Downtown Eastside. The whole experience was eye-opening.

Twenty-three running days and two hundred and two kilometres later, we wrapped up the ‘Run the City’ project on a misty October morning, just in time for us to pack our bags and get ready to relocate back to the mountains of Nelson, BC. Both Mat and I felt a sense of pride in the completion of the project and even a slight twinge of sadness that this chapter was done.

The final day of Run the City, we ended by running the perimeter of the Downtown Core. Vancouver, BC

This creative approach of running every single street is definitely one of my favourite new ways to explore any environment. I foresee it becoming a future equation that we can apply to many of the amazing places we decide to call home. It was stimulating, motivating and enlightening and has definitely given me permission to explore the nooks and crannies of a community that I would often overlook.

In all of the lessons I learned during this project, one of my biggest takeaways is that there is beauty to be found everywhere I go, everywhere I look, everywhere I am, if only I’m willing to open up the windows to my soul and truly see it. 

A heatmap of our run from our Strava. You can follow our Strava adventures through this link.

PS. We’re 160+ days and counting. We feel so dang good, we’re going to keep this roll going. For how long? Who knows. But most definitely for now.

PPS. We were inspired by Rickey Gates & his project ‘Every Single Street‘ which he started in San Francisco years back. He’s a rad dude and super inspirational endurance runner.

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